"Now blesse thy selfe: thou met'st with things dying, I with things new borne."
[The Winter's Tale Act 3, scene 3]
On the morning of July 7th, 1930, the day Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died, four boys woke up in the unfamiliar surroundings of 84, Kingston Crescent, Portsmouth. They were the initial intake of the city's first hostel for boys, set up under the presidency of the Lord Bishop, to be run on diocesan lines by a committee, backed by the council, navy and subscriptions. The story of its ten years in existence may be followed in local newspapers, especially the supportive Portsmouth Evening News. I shall focus on the author's posthumous connection with the hostel.
From the beginning the scheme was beset by debt and it is testament to the dedication of its fundraisers and staff that, despite the economic hardship that typified the 1930's, all was running on an even keel, in credit, by 1935. Enough had been raised to pay for major internal works required to secure Home Office recognition and grants. An extension was added that meant the hostel could house its projected full complement of 24 boys at any one time. In practice, it was almost always full, with a few beds kept vacant for emergencies. Had the war not intervened it would likely have given many more years of service, but closure came with evacuation measures. The facility became a daytime boys' club about the time Conan Doyle's widow died. It is to her we now turn.
Lady Conan Doyle and the Conan Doyle Room.
|Lady Conan Doyle in 1931|
As his second wife, Conan Doyle's widow had not
shared her husband's formative years in Southsea,
but she clearly appreciated the mutual bond of
the doctor-writer and his beloved city.
Moreover, the thought she took over the nature of
contributions to the hostel in his memory shows
she knew what he represented to young people.
On August 20th, 1930, this report
appeared in Portsmouth Evening News.
Here is the record of Lady Conan Doyle's £20 contribution:
|Hampshire Telegraph 17 October, 1930,|
On September 16, the Portsmouth Evening News looked forward to the hostel's opening ceremony on October 14, noting that Lady Conan Doyle and family were expected to attend. They do not appear to have done so, having no presence in reports or photographs of the event. I suspect she was already ill with the ailment that prevented her from travelling to Philadelphia, in County Durham, the following Saturday. The Hull Daily Mail reported on 20th October that son, Dennis, had opened the new Christian Spiritual Church, "deputising for his mother, Lady Doyle, who is ill." This would not be the end of the story.
A Song of Action.
It may be wondered whether the proposed room got off the ground. Evidence that it did is provided in a Hampshire Telegraph article of 8th May, 1931.
Here is finance for re-decoration and the gift of a significant artefact, the plaque from the author's bedroom. Lady Conan Doyle has chosen weil.